When summer rolls around and the sweat rolls off, it’s a perfect time to think about float flying. In the Light-Sport Aircraft or light kit-built airplane space, you are lucky to have a broad number of choices. This includes seaplanes (with boat hulls), floatplanes (land planes equipped with floats) or either of those on aircraft such as weight-shift trikes. Legend Cub is a modernized version of the old Piper Cub. Sulphur Springs, Texas-based Legend was an early entrant to the LSA world. They’ve done well enough under the leadership of Darin Hart to occupy the #5 spot on our all-time-fleet ranking of Special LSA; they are one of only five LSA producers with more than 200 aircraft registered with FAA. American Legend flew a float-equipped Legend Cub way back on March 11, 2005 even before the first Special LSA were accepted by FAA. Legend’s floatplane offering boasts advantages. “It weighs less than comparable aircraft, cost less, and came with the added advantage of doors and windows on both sides of the cockpit,” observed the company.
Though the aircraft looks rather small as you approach it, SeaMax’s interior is surprisingly roomy and its interior has a handsome speedboat-like finish with a generous 46 inch width, close to the broadest LSA and half a foot wider than a Cessna 172. Entering is simple with its widely front-opening canopy; you step on the solid floor and sit. Canopy optics were superb and you have 270-degree visibility thanks to rear quarter windows. Because you'll want the canopy closed in the water — the airplane sits low — air vents are positioned in the canopy with a second set near your head, tucked away in the wing root area. These keep air flowing inside. When taxiing on land you can leave the canopy open and the hinges are robust; even on a bumpy turf runway, the canopy moves very little. After rolling off the ramp or beach, you retract the gear in preparation for launch. SeaMax's electromechanical landing gear takes nine second to fully retract. To help you fully prepare, SeaMax offers a digital flap position indicator and digital trim position indicator. You also flip on an electrical fuel boost pump and a relatively uncommon bilge pump prior to moving the throttle forward. A 100-hp Rotax 912 AirMax moves SeaMax easily on land or water. My experience on the water at 45 mph showed SeaMax to be a great little speedboat. Turning in this configuration employs the water rudder, which extends from inside the air rudder. You use opposite aileron to keep from sticking a sponson too deeply in the water. On full application of power some water spray may contact the prop so AirMax uses a metal reinforced prop leading edge. As mentioned above cockpit side rails in SeaMax are only inches above the water line. The bottom of occupant seats are below the water line. Until your technique is experienced, I consider this a lake airplane although I heard reports of operations in one-foot waves. Such restrictions are common on smaller amphibians. My checkout pilot suggested I apply full power with the stick held full aft until breaking water or ground. As the nosewheel lifts, you relax the back pressure and let the plane fly itself off the surface. Rotation occured at about 45 mph indicated on the Dynon instrumentation. SeaMax’s hull gets on the step in about 100 feet, says AirMax. With continued acceleration takeoff follows in about 300 feet total when flying solo or about 500 feet when flying dual. Climbout at 70 mph produced about 1,000 fpm initially. SeaMax sustained climb at about 700 fpm with 10 degrees of flaps. During landings with full flaps the aircraft approaches at 50 mph. A safe downwind speed is 75-80 mph; this produces about 500 fpm down with the throttle at idle thrust. Water touchdowns proved very straightforward. SeaMax responds very well as a boat. Touchdown was at about 60 mph and it immediately started tracking true. My check pilots said it is essential to keep the stick full aft to prevent porpoising and possible upset. Airborne, the SeaMax joystick has a light touch although I recommend a few hours to optimize. My initial efforts at mild dutch rolls were sloppy suggesting handling that takes acclimatization. Rudder control took the most finesse perhaps due to close coupling behind a large cabin combined with a pusher engine. You need to use the rudder but bumps of it rather than steady pressure worked best for me. Light and responsive controls will delight pilots who take the time to get used to them. Roll rate was medium to somewhat fast. You rarely have to land crosswind on the water in a seaplane but on land, SeaMax has all the control authority it needs. To smoothen airflow around the large cabin, designer Rosario put in a long investigation into the vortex generator tabs seen in many locations. I was recommended to use 4800 rpm on the 100-hp Rotax 912 for normal cruise. That produced about 100 mph. At 4600 rpm we showed slightly less than 100 mph but these are low, fuel-conserving power settings. Push the Rotax a bit harder and SeaMax reached 115 mph, putting it high among other LSA seaplanes. Get all official specifications from the factory. Water runs are relatively short (300 ft. solo) and climb is brisk at 1,000 fpm for a few minutes after takeoff. Landings are also rather short. Stalls were mild in my trials. From most entries, stalls appeared to break benignly in the low 40 mph range though the factory says 36 mph with optimal flaps. Longitudinal stability checks and power changes showed SeaMax to be a generally stable aircraft; it recovered from mild disturbances of the stick on its own and with only a few oscillations. In summary, I'd call SeaMax a "performance LSA seaplane," peppy and demanding a bit more pilot attention but it gets up and goes. Stopped at the airport, pilots checking out SeaMax become impressed quickly. The following video interview was shot at Sun 'n Fun 2017. For more go to our LSA Video page or the Ultralight News YouTube channel. https://youtu.be/XyXXjqYBnwo
SeaMax from Brazil has been somewhat absent in recent years. I will spare you the detail but the company used a lot of energy to repel an undesired takeover. In recent months that was resolved and the company is now ready to move forward smartly. SeaMax was an early LSA to meet the consensus standards as required by FAA. The first was the Mermaid in February 2006. Second was the Colyaer Freedom on January 2007. On Christmas Day 2007, SeaMax became the third. However, of those three only SeaMax has remained in regular production for the last ten years. More recently, SeaMax was followed by SeaRey, Super Petrel, and A5 as ASTM-compliant LSA seaplanes. See our SLSA List for all aircraft shown in sortable columns. At Sun ‘n Fun 2017, I did a video interview with designer Miguel Rosario that you can watch below.
Unless you’ve had your mind on other pursuits — oh, for example, preparing to head to Sun ‘n Fun 2016 next week (the show runs April 5-10) — you could hardly miss the growing buzz surrounding Icon. A soft whistle of air escaping the cabin turned into a deafening roar as Aero-News.Net (always fast with news), AOPA online, AVweb and others piled on to a story about Icon’s 40-page A5 purchase contract. Credible journalistic work was done by Jim Campbell, Jim Moore, and Paul Bertorelli (respectively of each of the publications mentioned above) in documenting the behemoth contract. I have an opinion too — one part respectful of the California company’s wish to protect their brand and their investment and and one part saying, “What the…?” I see no reason to delve into further than the lengthy stories my fellow writers already posted. Instead, I like following what’s new in Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights.
Older readers may remember, “The Russians are Coming,” a silly movie about a supposed Russian invasion from 1966. It was a comedy set during the Cold War. Here in the new millennia a different sort of aviation invasion appears to be happening. This time it’s the Brazilians and they are not so much invading as looking for a better place to set up shop. A decade ago, Brazil was riding high, one of the so-called BRIC countries on the rise as new economic powerhouses. Flush with commodities revenue the government was free to dole out public money very generously and things were looking good. Here in 2016, that situation has changed dramatically. The economy is sluggish, President Dilma Rousseff has been earning approval ratings in single digits, and doing business in Brazil is said to have increasing challenges. Maybe that’s why Brazilian aviation giant Embraer started making bizjets in Melbourne, Florida … or maybe this country is where many of their fancy Phenom jets sell.
One of the fast paced developments I’ve observed has been Aeromarine LSA’s new Merlin PSA. “PSA” stands for Personal Sport Aircraft and the Florida company may be truly onto something interesting. While recognizing they are very capable airplanes, many lament the cost of carbon fiber speedsters with glass cockpits and autopilots. Aeromarine LSA perceives an opening. Introduced at the U.S. Sport Aviation 2016 event in Sebring last month, proprietor Chip Erwin said Merlin PSA drew questions: “It only costs $35,000?” and, “That price really includes the engine?” A longtime entrepreneur in the light aircraft manufacturing game, Chip sees a way to attract buyers with a very modestly priced aircraft that is fully enclosed, made with all metal construction and with interesting powerplant choices. The first U.S. Merlin PSA is powered with the 65 horsepower Rotax 582 that provide outstanding performance for such a light aircraft.
SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Why do pilots and friends flock to Sebring? Several good reasons come to mind: • Weather is flying-friendlier than in America’s snow belt; • More than 130 exhibitors include dozens and dozens of the most popular and successful Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights; • Many educational forums are presented; • Hear speakers and panels; • Excellent demo flight possibilities; and, • for those in the business of serving LSA and light kits, the LAMA Dinner on opening night promises to be interesting with a “Great Debate” of engine manufacturers. Sebring Expo is also the place where new aircraft appear, trying to get a jump on the aviation calendar with new offerings. In this article, we bring one of these to your attention. I’ve written about Chip Erwin’s newest development before (here and here). At Sebring 2016, you will finally get to see an example so fresh the paint is barely dry … yet you will hardly miss its attention-getting color.
SEBRING 2016 PREVIEW — Folks are headed to Sebring. I’m already here, residing about three hours north in Daytona Beach, and it is sunny and pleasant outside. To a Floridian, it seems a bit cool … meaning mid-50s. Now, I know it’s become quite cold up north, so 50s may not sound bad; we’re softies down here. Opening day Wednesday looks improved with forecasts saying a high of 63 degrees and winds out of the north at 5-10 mph. Thursday looks even warmer with a high of 71 and winds south-southeast at 5-10 mph. Friday should remain warm but rain is forecast. However, the final day, Saturday the 23rd, looks sunny, cooler (55) and windier. Every day may not be perfect but the two opening days look optimal. For aircraft departing on Sunday, weather again looks quite accommodating with the high above 60 and winds out of the west-northwest at only 5 to 10 mph.
Are you intrigued by an affordable yet well-performing single-seat Personal Sport Aircraft? In a time when so many claim light aircraft have simply become too expensive, one aircraft is coming to challenge that belief. Some rather grudgingly acknowledge that, yes, you can buy a low-cost aircraft but that it won’t satisfy your desires … that it will have an open cockpit, or is too slow, or uses an engine you don’t know, or that it lacks the right instruments, or it will be a weight shift aircraft or a powered parachute … or something that disqualifies it for them. Well, even our friends at Flying magazine — thanks to popular writer Pia Bergqvist, who also covered such aircraft as Quicksilver‘s wide-open Sport 2 SE — gave recent prominent coverage to what importer/developer Chip Erwin is doing with his Merlin PSA. Does the name Chip Erwin ring a bell?
Big power is not just for LSA taildraggers anymore. A few years back, CubCrafters surprised the LSA world with its installation of the most powerful engine in the LSA space. The western U.S. company mounted a Titan engine from ECi making the modest Cub-like airframe perform far better than the old versions from the Piper company. At the time, this potent powerplant raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, it seemed an excess of power for the then-new lightweight class of airplanes FAA had just regulated into existence. Most had been using one of the 9-series engines from Rotax, which in some cases was itself a move up from a two-stroke Rotax 582 providing 65 horsepower. CubCrafters limited power after takeoff to maneuver within the regs, though, honestly, who would continue using so much power in cruise or while sight seeing? Secondly, the Cub-style airframe is already near the upper LSA empty weight calculation so CubCrafters’ engineers had to add many costly carbon fiber elements to keep the empty weight low enough to fit in the class.
The Video Pilot Report below may be one of the most anticipated VPRs my video partner Dave and I have produced. I did the flying at AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 on Lake Winnebago in late July, but because Icon preferred to provide the video footage, it has taken some weeks to put it all together. Production of one of these VPRs is a two-part effort. First, I invested some time to get to where Icon did their demo flying (away from all the other flying locations associated with Oshkosh). Weather and the company’s desire to take aloft a reported 150 of their waiting owners forced a couple schedule changes. Since returning home, we worked with several helpful folks at Icon to assemble all the right video pieces. Finally, Dave invested many hours editing what you see below (or here). Our video should show you most of what you want to see about this impressive LSA including water takeoffs and landings, in-flight maneuvering, stalls (such as they are), low flying over the water, and the interior of the airplane including Icon’s highly emphasized Angle of Attack indicator.